On 17-19 May 2010, Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies (BICCS) invited 30 participants from 15 European institutes to participate in an intensive workshop about China’s response to security challenges in Africa. The aim of this meeting was to examine the new security threats with which China has been confronted, the way China perceives these challenges and how it has responded. This was the first time that EU experts had a separate meeting to discuss the impact of China’s policies on the interests of the European Union and how the latter could respond.
The overall conclusion was that Europe’s policy initiative to establish trilateral dialogue and cooperation with China on African peace and security has not produced substantial results. The workshop noted China’s continuing, and in some respects deepening, involvement with multilateral security initiatives in Africa, and some ad hoc changes in China’s non-interference policy to respond to certain non-traditional security challenges, such as humanitarian crises. However, the workshop also revealed that China still has a clear penchant for security free riding. Europe should therefore pursue a strategy that combines constructive engagement with tacit balancing.
Some of the main recommendations of the workshop report were:
• A policy coordinator should be appointed at the level of the European External Action Service (EEAS).
• A working group, representing EU institutions and Member States should be established to oversee cooperation.
• A liaison office should be set up for communication with China (and other countries) at the European Military Staff HQ.
• A military advisor should be appointed in the EU embassy in Beijing (and other important EU embassies).
• Promotion of the rule of law in EU-China-Africa cooperation should be a priority.
• Technical assistance for developing and strengthening national legislation on arms trade should be increased
• European companies in the African mining sector should be supported as examples of transparency.
All in all, the best scenario was considered to combine engagement with tacit balancing. Trying to set a constructive example in Africa will not work without setting priorities, beefing up Europe’s presence and pooling the scattered policies of different Member States.
The report sends a strong signal to both Chinese and European stakeholders. This was one of the rare opportunities for EU China watchers to produce a joint policy document.